For the second time in two years, a key member of Microsoft's management team for the Xbox is leaving the company.
John Schappert, vice president of Microsoft Interactive Entertainment and the company’s public face at large-scale industry events, is departing for Electronic Arts, where he will assume the role of chief operating officer in mid-July.
It’s a homecoming for Schappert, who left EA for Microsoft in 2007. He initially joined EA in 1998, when the company bought his Tiburon Studios, which develops the popular "Madden NFL" "NCAA Football" and "Tiger Woods" franchises.
Schappert is the second high-level Microsoft executive to defect to EA. In 2007, Peter Moore, who ran Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business (and was also the company’s public face), left to run EA’s sports division.
The move, which surprised most analysts, is something of a blow to Microsoft. Schappert is credited with helping to greatly expand the Xbox Live online service during his tenure. Membership more than doubled during his time at the company.
He is also credited with the decision to 'reboot' Xbox Live, offering customers a wider array of gaming choices as well as several non-gaming components, including the ability to watch Netflix movies through their Xbox 360.
At EA, Schappert will have a wider focus, overseeing worldwide publishing and the company's burgeoning interactive unit. That online division holds significant growth potential, as the company has been exploring digital distribution plans in recent years and will launch an online franchise mode in this year’s "Madden" game, which could compete with the leading fantasy football leagues.
EA also runs Rupture, a social networking service for gamers that allows them to track in-game achievements and create their own. Rupture was developed in collaboration with Shawn Fanning, the inventor of Napster. EA has been relatively quiet about its plans for this division over the past year.
His return could give the company's stock a boost as well. EA shares are down more than 50 percent from a year ago, as earnings have regularly disappointed and big titles have not met sales expectations. The 2008 holiday season was notably rough for the company.
It has been on something of an upswing in 2009, though. Shares are up 18 percent since the beginning of the year and the launch of "The Sims 3" earlier this month set a record for the company, with 1.4 million copies of the PC game being sold at launch.
EA also had a well-received showing at E3, with many of its games being seen as potential strong sellers this holiday season.
Schappert will replace John Pleasants in the COO role at EA. Pleasants, the former CEO of Ticketmaster, has joined social gaming startup Playdom.